LWUA appoints new MCWD OIC general manager

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THE Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) has appointed a new officer-in-charge general manager of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) to replace lawyer John Dx Lapid, who had resigned from this position just four days after his April 12 appointment.

But the going won’t be easy, as the camp of the LWUA-suspended MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III and general manager Edgar Donoso have responded by saying that they will maintain the status quo at the water district.

On Monday, April 22, 2024, the LWUA-installed interim board of directors at the MCWD designated Joselito Thomas Baena as the new OIC general manager, the Cebu City Public Information Office announced on social media on the same day.

Baena will sit as general manager in the absence of Donoso, whom the interim board had placed on preventive suspension for a period of 90 days last April 12.

A quick search of his LinkedIn account reveals that Baena is one of the partners in the Rama Baena Tan and Ang Law Offices run by Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s son, Mikel.

The LWUA suspended Donoso last April 12 for defying the interim board’s request to turn over documents on the MCWD’s transactions and for failing to respond to a notice to explain his decision. Donoso and the Daluz-led MCWD board of directors, however, do not recognize the LWUA’s authority to impose this suspension. The LWUA suspended the Daluz-led board for six months last March 15.

Prior to Baena’s appointment, MCWD division manager for customer care Lapid was appointed to the role but resigned on April 16 after a series of events that included his being barred from entering the MCWD main office on the morning of April 15, and his entry into the building that night with 70 City Hall personnel, some of whom broke into Donoso’s office, leading him to say that he did not want to be used for politics.

LWUA Administrator Jose Moises Salonga last week said the MCWD had harassed Lapid by barring his entry to the main office, threatening to have his vehicle towed, and threatening him with lawsuits.

Heavy

In a statement to the Cebu City PIO, Baena described the task given to him as great and heavy: “The task is great, and the responsibility that landed on our shoulders is heavy. But we cannot turn our backs on Cebu and the Cebuanos. We cannot shirk away from the call of duty.”

Baena said he will take immediate steps to stabilize the situation by coordinating with MCWD officers, employees and stakeholders.

He said he would reach out to barangay officials and community leaders in both upland and urban localities who are facing severe challenges in water supply amid the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“The water crisis needs urgent attention. Real livelihoods are at stake; everyone is affected. Thus, we recognize and express our gratitude to the local officials and community leaders who took the initiative and provided emergency water to residents,” he said.

Unauthorized

How he will do all these, however, is unclear as the camp of Daluz and Donoso have directed MCWD employees not to recognize his appointment.

“All MCWD managers and employees will strictly adhere to directives from the legitimate Daluz-led board and GM Donoso,” the water district said in a statement on Monday, with the Daluz-led board referring to Daluz and fellow directors Miguelito Pato and Jodelyn May Seno.

The MCWD said it had implemented increased security measures to prevent unauthorized access to the MCWD’s main office building by non-MCWD personnel. It said access for consumers is restricted to the customer’s area on the building’s ground floor.

“MCWD is committed to safeguarding our organization and office premises against any potential intrusions, complying with proper government rules and procedures, and upholding our charter under Presidential Decree 198,” MCWD’s statement said.

SunStar tried to reach the LWUA’s Salonga, to no avail.

Why he accepted

Asked why he accepted the appointment despite the issues surrounding MCWD, Baena told SunStar Cebu that the focus of everyone has been on the struggle over who should have control over the water district, but it should be on how to take steps to mitigate the water crisis.

He added that as a young lawyer he is not privy to the issues between MCWD and the City Government, but he should focus on the real issue.

Asked if he is affiliated with the LWUA or the City Government, Baena said he is a Cebuano and he has acquaintances in Cebu.

“Almost all parties, naa tay affiliation sa (we have affiliations with) almost all the key players,” he said.

However, as to the merits of his appointment, Baena said he was not sure how he was chosen. He said he had just been asked if he was up for the task.

Baena was in Manila at the time of the interview. Baena was set to leave for Cebu on Monday evening.

Mayor Rama fired Daluz, Pato and Seno from the MCWD board last Oct. 31, but the trio have refused to leave their posts. The trio have also not recognized their suspension by the LWUA.

Last week, as the power struggle continued, Cebu City Administrator Collin Rosell, City Budget Officer Jerone Castillo and City Legal Officer Carlo Vincent Gimena had to go to the MCWD office to support Lapid in his appointment as OIC general manager after Daluz and Donoso’s camp barred Lapid from entering the building on April 15.

With Daluz’s vow to bar unauthorized entry, it remains to be seen if a show of force from City Hall will again be needed when Baena attempts to enter the MCWD main office building for his first day of work.

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